With National Moth Night 2014 fast approaching what better time is there to champion these underrated nocturnal wonders?
Often the first question that needs to be answered when speaking about moths is; how do you tell them apart from butterflies? Despite the contrasting attitudes towards moths and butterflies they are closely related and have a lot in common. They’re both part of the scientific order Lepidoptera, meaning scale winged and deriving from the delicate powdery scales that cover them. Both moths and butterflies start their lives as plant devouring caterpillars before transforming themselves into the adult forms that we’re used to seeing, and they both feed on nectar from flowers, supplementing this with other liquids.
So how do you tell them apart? Below is a list of the easiest ways to separate the two species, although there are always exceptions to the rules.
- Shape of Antennae
This is probably the most obvious difference between the two groups, with butterflies having clubbed antennae that are wider at the tips and moths have wider, feathery antennae.
- Resting Posture
Butterflies usually rest with their wings folded upwards whilst moths rest with them lowered down over their back, as can be seen in the picture below. Despite this, butterflies may still rest their wings over their backs if they’re ‘sunning’ themselves.
- Wing Colouration
Generally, butterflies have vividly coloured wings whilst moth’s wings are less colourful, assisting with camouflage. This, however, doesn’t mean that moths are always dull, with many being brightly coloured, particularly those which are toxic.
Butterflies and moths pupate, or become adults in slightly different ways. Both go through this transformation in a protective shell called a chrysalis, however, moths usually spin a silk cocoon around the chrysalis whilst butterflies leave theirs bare.
- Time of Activity
One of the simplest, yet still not fool proof, ways to tell a moth from a butterfly is the time of day that you see them. Most moths are nocturnal and will be seen at night (the classic moth to flame scenario) whilst butterflies are usually diurnal and are active during the day.
- Mate Selection
They use different methods to aid them in mate selection, something that’s reflected in the antennae shape. Moths use their wide feathery antennae to detect potential mates via scent. These antennae have a large surface area and help them detect scent molecules called pheromones from up to 6 miles away. Most species of butterflies lack this ability and instead choose their mates visually.
So now that you know how to tell a moth from a butterfly, why not get outside and learn more about these interesting species yourself? There’s no better time than national moth night and no better place than here at Montrose Basin, 8pm tonight! Our local moth expert will be on hand to show you how to identify them and answer all your questions.
Visitor Centre Assistant Manager.